Kent’s hopes of reaching this season’s NatWest T20 Blast quarter-finals were dealt a severe blow as Sussex Sharks snaffled a five-wicket south group win in Canterbury.
Sharks’ skipper Chris Nash bossed the show with an unbeaten73 from 58 balls as Sussex landed their third south group win, whilst inflicting Kent’s fifth defeat of an inconsistent campaign.
Nash, the man-of-the-match said: “We got ahead of the game in Kent’s powerplay and that’s for sure. We have done well in the first 10 overs in most games and we repeated that tonight.
“Billings played exceptionally well and hit the ball really cleanly in areas that we couldn’t defend, so all credit to him for putting a decent score in the board. But I thought the way our bowlers dictated up top meant they could only post 160 instead of 190.
“They got about par for the pitch maybe, but it was reversing for their bowlers really big in the last five overs and I’m thankful that ‘Browny’ played really well to get us ahead of the game.
“We were chasing at under sevens for much of the game and I felt really calm in what I was doing out there and it felt nice to see us through.”
Chasing Kent’s hard-fought total of 163 for nine – almost half of which came from the bat of Sam Billings – Sussex made a useful start only to be set back when Stiaan van Zyl edged to the keeper when attempting a back-foot force against Jimmy Neesham, Kent’s Kiwi all-rounder.
Nash and Ben Brown added 88 for the second Sussex wicket until Brown, one short of his 50, was bowled by Darren Stevens when aiming an ambitious, leg-side clip.
Kent’s veteran all-rounder lifted the spirits of a 5,500 crowd – Spitfires biggest of the campaign – by having Ross Taylor caught at point from his very next delivery, but, with the wily Nash at the crease, it proved a false dawn for Spitfires’ fans.
With only 16 runs needed Laurie Evans (15) played across the line to go lbw to Mitch Claydon then David Wiese was run out in his follow-through by Jimmy Neesham without scoring, yet still Sussex romped home with an over to spare when Nash smeared the winning boundary over backward point.
Fresh from their emphatic eight-wicket win over Surrey on Thursday evening, Sussex named an unchanged side and were on top from the start despite Kent winning their third successive home toss.
Only five of the Spitfires top-to-middle order made it into double figures, of those only Billings showed the class that led to his IPL debut for Delhi Daredevils in the domestic close season.
The impish right-handed wicketkeeper, to many Kent supporters a re-embodiment of 1970s legend Alan Knott, smashed a sublime 74 from 40 balls while those about him struggle for timing.
Billings, 26, but playing in his 118th domestic T20 game, clattered four fours and five sixes to save Kent’s blushes after his side had made a miserable start.
Spitfires’ in-form opening bat Joe Denly had his off stump pegged back by the first ball of the night from David Wiese then, in the second over, skipper Sam Northeast skied an attempted leg-side force against spinner Danny Briggs only to hole out to the keeper.
Kent’s demise continued when Wiese skittled Daniel Bell-Drummond (12) to make it 22 for three only 29 balls into the match. Starved of short-form batting, Darren Stevens took time to get his eye in but, with his score on 18, the veteran all-rounder smeared to long-off after making room against Briggs, who finished with two for 33.
Neesham’s run of useful contributions ended when he cross-batted one to long-off against Chris Jordan and Kent’s big-hitters continued to fail when Alex Blake (1) dragged on when eyeing a back-foot force against Jofra Archer.
Matt Coles (14) heaved across the line to be bowled by the same bowler leaving Jordan to sweep up with figures of three for 38. The former Surrey and England seamer bowled Billings, after he attempted an audacious sweep shot, then skittled Imran Qayyum first ball with a low full-toss as Kent just about batted out their 20 overs.
Billings, the night’s top-scorer said: “It was a belting pitch but T20 is a game of fine margins and a couple of overs with the bat and ball really cost us the game tonight.
“As soon as we started getting back into the game we seemed to let the pressure off which you can’t afford to do in Twenty20. Credit to ‘Nashy’, who played a top-class knock, but we weren’t quite at it tonight and you can’t afford to do that in the south group.”